July 29, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Campaigns Face Costs of Scandal

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other California lawmakers have reported funds missing from their campaign accounts, and dozens of other campaigns and political committees may be victims of embezzlement.

Some campaigns may not have funds missing but may have funds in their accounts that were improperly transferred from other campaigns. In these cases, the campaigns will have to file corrected reports with the Federal Election Commission and may face penalties for false filings, attorneys said.

The FEC in 2007 enacted a "safe harbor" program to protect candidates from fines in the event that campaign staffers stole funds and falsified reports, but only if certain controls are in place to prevent such wrongdoing. The FEC recommends having bank statements reconciled and reviewed for unauthorized transactions, requiring two signatures on large disbursements and having separate people handling accounting and contribution processing.

"There are a lot of federal candidates who apparently did not have those controls in place, so the FEC could very well go after not only [Durkee] personally but file complaints against the campaigns that filed false statements. That is a very real possibility in this case," Venable's Ronald M. Jacobs said.

During the past decade, Durkee has also received a number of letters from the FEC questioning her about filings, which could make it more difficult to make the case that campaigns were monitoring finances closely. Her reports on behalf of the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee prompted 84 letters asking for additional information from the agency, for example. Durkee also received 60 letters regarding the recently terminated campaign of former Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.) and 29 letters questioning reports filed on behalf of the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley.

Even campaigns that do not at first appear to have funds missing could find it difficult to access the money, attorneys said. Durkee's banks could freeze the funds until the candidate signs a waiver to absolve them of liability. As the FEC and the California Fair Political Practices Commission trace the transactions, they could discover that funds from one client were used to hide money stolen from another, meaning there will be a battle over who is entitled to what remains.

"She has clients that aren't all up on the ballot at the same time," Birkenstock said. "I think there could actually be legal disputes among the various victims here."

Alex Knott contributed to this report.

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